Revisiting past BIG Initiative Award winners: Vicente Fernandez, Brad Wolff & Yash Gupta

To celebrate the release of applications for the 2017 BIG Initiative Award, the Michigan Sport Business Conference team caught up with past winners. Each recipient has followed a unique path since being honored at the MSBC and has a wealth of valuable advice to share with up-and-coming sport industry professionals. Their journeys, insights and advice will be shared.

Vicente Fernandez, BIG ‘13

Vicente Fernandez is the co-founder and CEO of SportsManias, a real-time, personalized news app for fantasy players and diehard fans. SportsManias is one of the fastest growing sports apps in the country, having been ranked as the No. 1 sports app in the App Store on Super Bowl Sunday. The app includes the world’s first animated sports emoji keyboard, with over 25 million emojis shared since October 2015. Partnered with the NFLPA, MLBPA, MLS and College Football Hall of Fame, SportsManias works with brands including Gatorade, Papa John’s, 20th Century FOX and Universal Pictures to make them part of fans’ messaging conversations.

A University of Chicago graduate, Vicente is an award-winning digital media innovator, sports writer and filmmaker. He has been named to Forbes 30 Under 30, Entrepreneur’s “50 Inspirational Entrepreneurs to Watch in 2017” and a White House Emerging Global Entrepreneur. Vicente leads SportsManias’ product and vision, recognizing opportunities and building innovative products to engage sports fans. He was a member of the MSBC BIG Initiative Award’s inaugural class.

Brad Wolff, BIG ‘16

Brad’s career in the sports realm began at the ripe age of 10 when he launched The King of Sports Blog. That eight-year journey enabled Brad to interview hundreds of star athletes from Michael Irvin to John Wall. The next chapter of Brad’s sports life was with CSLi’s Financial Literacy programming and he is now on the Strategic Ventures team at DraftKings. Brad has experience with SXSW on their SXsports team, Boeing and has been an active chairperson in the Undergraduate Business Council. Brad won the MSBC BIG Initiative Award, has been a finalist with the NBA’s Hackathon and been named a Quora Top Writer. He majors in Business Honors and Finance at The University of Texas at Austin.

Yash Gupta, BIG ‘16

Yash Gupta is a senior at the University of Southern California, studying Business Administration and minoring in Sports Media Studies. On campus, Yash serves as the co-president of the Sports Business Association and served as the student body president of the Marshall School of Business last year. His internship experiences include time at Wasserman, Under Armour, Fox Sports and the NBA.

How has winning the BIG Initiative impacted your journey to where you are today?

FERNANDEZ: Winning the BIG Initiative was a great moment of confirmation for me that I was on the right track in the sports industry. It is also incredible to see how many young, successful individuals in sports have ties to the MSBC and the BIG Initiative. It’s been a great starting point for me with new relationships and partnerships.

WOLFF: Winning the BIG Initiative Award re-energized me to pursue a career in sports. The award confirmed the success I have had and the impact I have made thus giving me the confidence to know I belong in an industry with a scarcity of jobs. The award has also led me to strategize how I can continue having an impact in the sports and the crossover with education.

GUPTA: The BIG Initiative has inspired me to continue pursuing excellence in the sports industry. Some of the people I met at the MSBC, specifically other BIG Initiative Award winners, are good friends of mine to this day. I know that in the future we will all cross paths in the sports business industry as we all continue to do amazing things.

What is the most valuable aspect of the BIG Initiative/MSBC experience to you?

FERNANDEZ: The network that came from winning the BIG Initiative Award is the most valuable aspect to me. I have become good friends and grown on parallel paths with other MSBC and BIG Initiative colleagues, which has led to great collaborative opportunities.

WOLFF: Hands down the networking. Not only do you get to meet the fellow future leaders in sports, both BIG winners and the MSBC staff, but you can engage with industry titans after they speak on their panels and with other professionals who float around the event.

GUPTA: The people: the people you meet, the people you hear from and the people you develop relationships with.
If you could provide this year’s BIG applicants and recipients with one piece of advice, what would it be?

FERNANDEZ: Think of your career trajectory as your story. You always want it to be advancing and fresh with compelling narratives. When you meet a potential employer or partner, you want to be memorable and the best way to do that is through your story.

WOLFF: Showcase the diversity of your skills and how you have used those skills to make an impact in different areas of the industry.

GUPTA: Don’t get complacent. I think a lot of the time, people who are in the sports industry feel comfortable with their position and stop grinding as hard as they did to get there in the first place. There are always people out there looking to replace you, so stay humble and stay motivated.
I you could have coffee with anyone in the sports industry, living or deceased, who would it be and why?

FERNANDEZ: I would love to sit down with Roberto Clemente. I’ve had his poster in my room since I was a kid and I can only imagine the incredible stories he has about pioneering baseball for the Latin American community and life in general. He left a huge impact on sports and so many people’s lives.

WOLFF: I’d up the ante on coffee and convert that to dinner, but I think it would be LeBron James. His on-court skill wouldn’t be the main reason why. LeBron has shown he has the business gene to be one of the billionaire titans of industry after his playing career.

GUPTA: Founder of Nike, Phil Knight. His memoir ‘Shoe Dog’ was absolutely inspirational and I would love to pick his brain on starting, developing, growing and, most importantly, maintaining the most influential sports brand in history.

Thanks to Vicente Fernandez, Brad Wolff and Yash Gupta for sharing their experiences. Conversations with past BIG Initiative Award winners will continue to be released over the next few weeks. For more information on the BIG Initiative Award and what it is, click here. To apply for the BIG Initiative Award, click here.

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